On Poetry, Spring, and Transition

4 Min read

Poetry for emergencies

2 Poets

Mary Oliver on things

Lao Tzu on excess

*

When I moved from one house to another
there were many things I had no room
for. What does one do? I rented a storage
space. And filled it. Years passed.

First lines of “Storage” by Mary Oliver

*

Irwin Park this morning

*

April is poetry month. If the seasons have anything to do with it, then spring has to be poetry in the way that winter has to be death.

I guess the point I want to make is that when the world is dreary and wet and cold as it was this morning on my run in Irwin Park and through the GreenLink, then the dogwood flower and crabapple blossom and the million-headed daffodils are proof of life.

There is no avoiding the poetry of spring.

Nature is in transition. She has pushed forth from a barren grave, flowers in bloom, petals swept along by our feet. Breathe in its sweet fragrance. Life is in transition with cleaning, the airing of rugs, the setup of patio furniture, the hauling out of stuff.

Oh, the weight of things. Mary Oliver writes of things. Here’s the full poem.

Audio: reading of Storage by Mary Oliver

*

Burn them, burn them! she says about things. More room for love and for trees. For the birds who own / nothing–the reason they can fly.

*

My friends are leaving, selling their houses and moving away. I don’t know the lane without them there. Our houses are empty of children, and children’s things, the toys and the noise. The children are adulting. They are on their way.

I picked up the Tao Te Ching–often referred to as The Way. Like spring it does not fail to give counsel and comfort. I had forgotten this gift which my friend inscribed to my family, writing out each child’s name, who were teenagers at the time.

*

For M–, M–, C–, D–, + N– This is my favorite translation of 道德經 [characters for Tao Te Ching] and the afterword by Professor Mair is worthy of careful consideration!

Dave’s inscription in Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, Victor H. Mair translation. (Bantam Books, 1990)

*

I flipped to this verse, the 24th in the standard text, a not-so-random number for today’s calendar date.

66*
(24)
Who is puffed up cannot stand,
Who is self-absorbed has no distinction,
Who is self-revealing does not shine,
Who is self-assertive has no merit,
Who is self-praising does not last long.

As for the Way, we may say these are
"excess provisions and extra baggage."
Creation abhors such extravagances.

Therefore,
One who aspires to the Way,
does not abide in them.

*

Mary Oliver and Lao Tzu. Both sages set down their wisdom, leaving it for us who come after.

Things! Burn them!

Unload the excess and the extra.

Writing this letter, dear reader, lifts the burden of things, of self-absorbtion, of sadness when friends leave. How so? Because others have been here before me and others will be here after me.

Without things, without excess provisions, without excess baggage, the Way is natural and clear. As birds fly.

*

FOOTNOTES

*Oliver, Mary. “Storage.” Devotions. Random House, 2020, p. 7. Published after her death in 2019, this collection includes selected poems from her books. This poem is included on page 7 and originally appeared in Felicity, 2015.

*Link to the audio, a reading of Storage. “A poem for Ash Wednesday as we begin our Journey to Transformation,” Read by: Jolene Moffatt.

*This is number 66 of 81 verses or poems of the Tao according to Mair’s translation of the 1973 Ma-wang-tui texts. Previous standard texts denote this as Number 24. I have multiple translations of the Tao and found this is the standard 24. Outside of the Bible and Bhagavad Gita (Hindu scriptures), the Tao Te Ching is the most translated book in the world, according to Victor H. Mair.

*

Apr 25, 2024

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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